The Wood Brothers' Oliver Wood on the shuitar and family songwriting

Categories: Concert Preview
The Wood Brothers
Courtesy Ian Rawn
Listening to the Wood Brothers' newest release Live Volume 2: Tooth & Nail, you get the immediate sense that these are folk songs composed by instrumentalists. The effort exhibits an adept awareness of musical interplay, full of delicious exchanges between upright bassist extraordinaire Chris Wood (of Medeski, Martin & Wood fame) and brother Oliver Wood, a nuanced blues guitarist. Not surprisingly, the live format showcases the band's strengths well. The result is a rich, rocking blues pallette with hooks that hang around long after the album is put away.

Before the brothers' show Sunday at Fine Line, Gimme Noise spoke with Oliver Wood about his songwriting process as he made his way into the Central Time Zone.

Gimme Noise: Since you and Chris [Wood] live so far apart, you've said you often write together on the road. Has that been true for this tour?

Oliver Wood: We've been working on a lot of new music and we plan on recording a new studio album in February. We definitely use our spare moments on tour to work on new songs. The methods are different: some songs we write kinda privately in a moment, then bring to the table to finish together. Then other songs are from the bottom up and we work on those together on the road. Our drummer Jano is really involved in the music and songwriting now too, so the more we can all be together and do this, the better.

Do you find you're now writing with three part vocal harmonies in mind?

Absolutely...since we all sing, it's really nice to be able to feature the three part harmonies, which is something we didn't have on our previous albums. This live album is the first thing to feature that a little, but as we write new ones we incorporate them quite a bit.

You said in an interview several years ago that you were writing more songs starting with the lyrics, is this still true now?

There's so many ways to do it. We had times where Chris had some music and I had some words and we married them together, or Chris had a chorus and I had some verses and they ended up being in the same song. Sometimes we'll just jam and record the music and that will inspire lyrics. Other times I find myself writing a lot of lyrics down or keep them with placeholder music in my head...and then, later on, we'll find some music for it.

One would have to think that the fact that you two are brothers would promote this symbiosis - to actually take different songwriters' ideas and put them together is tough!

Songwriting is such a personal thing, it can be hard to share and be vulnerable, open up your thoughts with somebody. It takes some getting used to, but it is really rewarding when it works out, so Chris and I have tried to nurture that. That's how we create a sound together.

Your mother placed a lot of value on words, poetry, etc. Were you exposed to poetry as a child?

I think we were, but it wasn't until well into adulthood that I actually appreciated what my mom did and I think Chris might say the same...we sort of took it for granted because it wasn't that interesting to us...both of us kinda got into songwriting later in life. We were both into the instrumental side of music earlier on. But now, I look back on it, and I think definitely, subconsciously, it was there. Certainly, especially after my Mom passed's a great source of inspiration.

Any new bands or performers that have you particularly excited these days?

The latest Dr. John album is something that we all fell in love with, which isn't a new artist, but I sorta connect that in a chain since it's the production we like so much and that was produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. I'm definitely a big fan of The Black Keys. Lately I've been listening to this Michael Kiwanuka record and there's some Avett Brothers that I like.

Recently you played to a crowd of 23,000 at the Southern Ground Music & Food Festival. That must have been a powerful experience. How do you translate the intimacy of your tight, acoustic sound into such a massive setting?

I don't know that we do translate like that, to be honest. I think certain songs that we do, can, but it's definitely not our forte. Although, I will say we've gotten a lot better at it. The whole thing about playing in front of a large crowd that's not there to see you - it's a serious challenge, they are not familiar with the music. A lot of those folks are people that listen to the radio, then go to a show to hear songs from the radio, which isn't us.

You guys have a pretty loyal fanbase of folks that LISTEN to your music...

Absolutely. We can count on the first 20 rows to get what we're doing. And when we do our own festivals, it's great, we've gotten used to playing in front of large audiences.

How many guitars do you travel with?

Just two...I have a '55 Gibson acoustic and a '60 Guild hollow body electric...I forgot, we have a third guitar with us, it's called a shuitar. Our drummer Jon O. plays percussion on it. It's a modified acoustic guitar that is now a percussion instrument. It has a pick up and we mic it. It's a really cool thing to see and hear.  

The Wood Brothers perform at Fine Line Music Cafe Sunday, November 4, 2012.

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